Does anyone want to help me unload a moving truck?

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FLEMING ISLAND – There goes the neighborhood.

The year-long search to buy a house in Clay County officially ended last Monday when I put pen to paper to close a deal on a home.

After a year of looking, bidding and agonizing, I finally have the perfect place. While the process seems overwhelming at times – OK all of the time – it proved to be worth the wait.

Now comes the hard part. Moving.

It’s no secret the housing market has gone off the deep end. It generally took more than $300,000 to get a house that went on the market for $265,000. I guess it’s new math.

While Katrina Leek wasn’t my agent, it probably would have been beneficial to talk with her a year ago at her River Birch Realty office in Orange Park. She knows how the game is played, and she has some suggestions to navigate through the process.

“Clay County is the perfect place to live, work and play,” Katrina said. “Although it is one of the fastest-growing counties in Florida, it offers affordable real estate options. Clay County offers substantial real estate cost savings and has a lower cost of living compared to surrounding counties in the Jacksonville metropolitan area. It has the region’s second-highest educated workforce and is home to many medical and industrial facilities.”

In short, others like Clay County as much as I do. That’s why there’s so much competition to be here. Supply and demand.

I can’t tell you how many houses I explored. After a while, it became a blur. I went into one in a prestigious Orange Park neighborhood that was so disgusting with filth and stench, my agent and I both started gagging just five steps inside the front door. And it can be yours for only $200,000.

The routine became numbing: research, visit, offer a bid and be rejected. While doing the same thing and expecting a different result is considered insanity, I refused to give up. And when I walked into this house, my pessimism was immediately replaced by excitement. This WAS my house and I WAS going to get it. Instead of hoping for a bargain, I got aggressive.

Paying more than the asking price goes against everything we’ve been taught. Oddly enough, this time our offer was what I believed the house to be worth. And since it’s my last house – this time I really mean it – I think both sides got a good deal.

Maybe the price is just a number. The real cost is what it’s worth to you. Clay County is a premium location, and if you want to live here, it’s going to cost you.

“Clay County schools are some of the best in the nation and are a major draw to the community,” Katrina said. “Clay County is also filled with natural beauty and has plenty of rivers, creeks and lakes. Overall, Clay County provides a relaxed environment with the perfect assortment of amenities to fit any lifestyle.”

Now that I’ve found my garage door opener in the massive housing haystack, will it get any easier for others?

“Inventory will remain scarce this spring, so buyers will have limited options compared to years prior,” Katrina said. “There are positive indicators hinting to a more favorable market for buyers compared to 2021. Home price appreciation, for example, is rising but at a slower rate compared to this time last year. However, buyers can still expect for the power to remain firmly in the hands of sellers this spring.”

The only thing worse than getting a deal on a house – or just paying the asking price – is trying to find a place to rent. One complex on Fleming Island has one-bedroom units starting at $1,313 a month. That’s almost twice my mortgage payment.

And when you pay more than $1,600 to rent a two-bedroom apartment, it’s difficult to save the money you’ll need for a down payment when you buy a home. Talk about a vicious cycle.

Thankfully, I jumped off that emotional and financial merry-go-round. No more taking my trash to a dumpster. No more fighting for a parking spot. No more paper-thin walls. No more worrying.

Now, if I can just get all these boxes unloaded.

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